It is odd to find yourself rooting for an actress as much as for her character, but asking an 18-year-old singer with no stage experience to lead the cast of The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice seemed crazy.
Diana Vickers, the teenager following in the famous footsteps of Jane Horrocks by playing the timid tunestress with an amazing ability for impersonating famous singers, rose to fame during the last series of The X Factor. At last night’s press night at the Vaudeville theatre, no-one could have guessed that it was her professional stage debut.
As the introverted impressionist, she seems to tiptoe her way around the stage like a frightened hedgehog always preparing to curl into a protective ball. You understand why when you meet her alcoholic, abusive, offensive mother Mari, played with boundless nervous energy by Lesley Sharp. No wonder LV has a little voice; in this northern house – which comes, courtesy of designer Lez Brotherston, complete with orange carpet, pink wallpaper and a fridge more repulsive than Mari’s personality – she has never been able to get a word in edgeways.
Vickers makes LV come alive through song, her entire body opening up into the performance. When Marc Warren’s promoter Ray Say – a low-rent, northern Elvis wannabee, all cheesy patter and once cool poses – hears LV’s remarkable voices, he sets out to make her a star, which is the last thing the reclusive record-lover wants.
Vickers could easily have stolen the show with her remarkable vocal performances, completely commanding a West End auditorium at the first time of asking, were it not for the fact that the stillness and fear she instills in LV when not singing is also incredibly endearing. The love affair between her and James Cartwright’s Bill is possibly the sweetest and most beautifully painful I have seen recently.
Though Vickers is undoubtedly the headline act, the production’s entire ensemble shines, from Sharp’s childish, selfish Mari, to the pitch-perfect understated humour of Rachel Lumberg as the put upon Sadie.
Jim Cartwright’s script, written nearly 20 yeas ago, has lost none of its bite and wit with time, and in the hands of director Terry Johnson moves seamlessly between laugh out loud funny and heartstring tugging.
It is just possible that as LV took to the stage of an imagined Northern working men’s club last night, showing off her incredible talent, the West End got a glimpse of a new star in the making.